Monday, May 14, 2007

Free Jazz and Tears

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Mother's Day Season

Whenever there are pre-birthday and post-birthday celebrations, my partner Pat refers to the period as one's "birthday season." We were scheduled to go with my mother, my sisters and their families to the Queens Botanical Garden on Sunday and then an early dinner, but Pat and I also took my mom out on Saturday, after our haircuts, for her Mother's Day Season.

Earlier in the week, my mother had heard a marvelous pianist at the local lunch for seniors. At the end of his set, she requested, "It Never Entered My Mind," and "Dancing on the Ceiling" -- not the Lionel Ritchie song, but rather the one from an earlier era. He told her that she could come hear him play again over the weekend, for free, in Westport.

Which we did. First, we saw Anthony Hopkins make terrific faces, as usual, in "Fracture" and then headed to an early supper at a diner my mother likes and then she directed us to the concert. I had been expecting a free, city-sponsored outdoor concert near the water, like we used to attend as a family, also with my dad and sisters, when I was growing up.

She had us pull into the driveway of a facility called Hall-Brook and I asked, "Is the concert indoors or outdoors?"

"I imagine it's indoors."

Instantly, I needed to re-set my expectations. This would not be a community experience, where we'd be surrounded by kids and parents, all with clean, messy hair -- from a day of sailing -- and madras-patterned shorts and fancy picnics and glowing faces further flattered by twilight.

Free Valet Parking and Free Baked Brie

The courteous guy out front took my keys and we entered a hospital for mentally-ill children, who were completely out of sight. "Where's the concert?" my mother asked the receptionist.


"I was told there would be free jazz here."

"There's an art show downstairs, and there's some music there, I believe."

We were ushered to a sign-in sheet downstairs and had to don stickers that read, "Art Show Guest." As my mother rolled down the linoleum hallway with her walker, I walked ahead of Pat and her and heard, "And the best in show is Nicole Ford" (I hope I'm remembering her name correctly). I peeked in and saw a stunning, blond woman with a devastated expression and I looked at her chest to read, "Xxxxx Xxxxxx, Artist." She was not Nicole Ford. I looked away quickly.

It was one of those moments, where I saw someone beautiful, who also appeared to be prosperous, and who I could not imagine routinely would experience pain. It was more intimacy with a stranger than I was entitled to or bargained for. I didn't look at her again, and didn't look for her exhibit.

My mom went for a serving of baked brie, which was runny and kind of gross to look at, and Pat wandered through the exhibits around the perimeter of the room. I felt like I needed to stick with my mother.

I spotted the electric piano and said, "Mom, I think the pianist is here."

My mother put down her plate and spoke effusively with him while he was on his way to the food table. It was 6:30 pm and the event had begun at 5, and would go till 8.

"Oh, good, I'd *love* to hear the two songs we talked about," my mom exclaimed, as if there had been no break in-between these sets and the ones at the recent seniors' lunch.

"I need to get some food," he said a bit beseechingly, as a reminder of his humanity; he was not merely a music-machine.

"My mom loved your music at the senior lunch the other day, she told me." He smiled gratifiedly.

My mother rolled her eyes with embarrassment and I wondered, Should I have not referred to it as a "senior" lunch? Or what did I do to embarrass her? And what a stark role reversal; my mother's the one who's supposed to do the embarrassing.

He stayed for a minute to talk: "You know Hart, who wrote that song [It Never Entered My Mind], was miserable. He was short and gay and Jewish."

My mother rolled her eyes again, this time at him, and went into primitive, protective mode: "My daughter is gay --"

I saw Pat and asked her over and said, "This is my partner Pat, and I bet he was miserable, to be gay at that time."

"Yes, it was hard, no doubt," said this tall-Jewish-apparently-heterosexual-and-in his-late-70s-clearly-supportive musician.

Meanwhile, Pat just smiled and let herself be used for my demo, and then we left him alone to get his food, my mother satisfied that he was not at all homophobic.

Just a few minutes later, he came back and played my mother's two requests in a row. She sat on the seat of her walker, rolling forward and back to the melody.

The music was indeed beautiful, and "It Never Entered My Mind" is always the song that reminds my mom of losing my dad, may his memory be blessed, at only 56. There's a line about how the singer never imagined needing to order orange juice only for one and it goes on like that.

Note: For the first time, I saw the power of Wikipedia from a producer, and not just a consumer, standpoint; I saw that the biography of Lorenz Hart referred to his "lifestyle" and I changed it to "sexual orientation," since, as Pat says, "It's a life, not a lifestyle."

Still, Pat was checking out the photographs and watercolors and I was standing behind my mother trying not to cry too un-decorously. This was not Westport by the water in the early-mid-70s; it was not a family outing with my mother luring my dad to dance to the music, or at least to hold her hands while she did most of the dancing; this was not an evening, where we'd pile into the station wagon afterwards, and I'd fall asleep and pretend to stay asleep when we pulled into the garage, so that my father would carry me upstairs; this was so not then.

My mother turned around and saw me crying and I kept trying to smile, but she saw the tears; she wasn't as curious as she was transported herself by the music and so she didn't express concern. The pianist also saw me crying and I couldn't help it, and I kept looking away, even as my eyes would thank him for the catharsis in-between looking away.

Some other guests, "Friends of Hall-Brooke," caught my eye, too, whenever I looked away and out into the room. I figured, They are equipped to deal with it if they're supporting an institution for mentally-ill kids.

I wanted the music to go on and on, and to be somewhere private, where I could allow it to let me cry loudly and cleansingly.

No such luck.

Free, Further Vulnerability

During his next break, my mother spotted someone that both of us recognized, the mother of a woman who I was hurt by in college. I had not seen Mrs. Xxxxxxx for at least 15 years, say, the last time my mother ran into her at an event where I was with my mom.

I did not want to say hello. She was already upon us, though. "You're Sarah Siegel?!" she said, poking my stomach with her index finger.

She had absolutely no recollection of what I looked like. The whole encounter was an indignity I wanted so badly to escape from, and Pat was across the room, pouring herself some Diet Coke and I didn't say, "Don't you dare poke such a private part of my body, but since you did, isn't it surprisingly firm?" Every part of me, other than my ego, felt violated, which was a step up from how it had gone with her daughter.

"Sarah showed me around Jerusalem [when I was visiting and she was living and studying there for her junior year]," she said to my mother, pointing at me.

"Yeah, and you were angry at me for not agreeing to skip class to take you to Yad Vashem, but rather for insisting politely that I would meet you there after class. You really were a babyish traveler," I wanted to say in response, but just smiled as sincerely as I could muster.

"[My daughter] married a minister, if you can believe it. They have three kids, one from his previous marriage, and she's a pediatric nurse practitioner."

"I don't want to hear any of this. You daughter was a jerk ultimately," again, I wanted to say, but instead, just listened politely. In fact, at the dinner party I posted about in "Others' Futures..." I told the story of how I felt that her daughter had led me on explicitly and then chickened out when we were freshmen, telling me the next day that her sister advised her no longer to be friends with me, since I was "...obviously a lesbian."

I had taken two steps forward toward coming out and 10 back after that experience. Fortunately, I got over it by senior year, and upon my return from Jerusalem, when we ran into each other on campus at the pool, she invited me to dinner and I felt that she was suggestive yet again, but this time, I was immune to her opt-in-opt-out routine.

Seeing her mother, though, and hearing about her life now, annoyed me in a way I could not have expressed to her mother. I caught Pat's eye again and motioned her over.

"This is my partner, Pat, and this is Xxxxxxx's mother," I said.

"Right, from Michigan," Pat said with a winning smile.

"We've been together for just about 15 years -- in July it'll be," I said.

"Wow, that's great," her mother said.

I sidled away with Pat and then stood face-to-face with her, talking softly while holding her arms off and on. I saw my former friend's mother looking at us and I felt self-conscious and that I needed to assert our couple-ness visibly.

"How did you like the way I just said, 'Right, from Michigan!'"

"Nicely done."

I wanted the mother to stop watching us. My own mother was re-engaged in the piano music and I thought of how my mom had told me that she had run into Xxxxxxx's mother about 10 years prior, at a Jewish older singles dance, and what her mother had said when my mother told her mother about my having a female partner.

My mother said that her response was, "Xxxxxxxx is that way sometimes, too."

How do you feel during Mother's Day Season?


Stonelion said...

Hi Sarah,

I'm enjoying reading these stories and catching what references I can. I sent you an email in response, but you're on vacation and won't see it for a while.

Aditi Sharma said...

Oh Sarah, you write so beautifully! I loved Free Jazz and Tears - it was funny in parts and poignant at times but all real - all the way.

I used to feel sad at the thought of not having mom with me on Mother's Day but have accepted now that it's only her body that's gone. Her soul is alive and watches me and communicates with me, every day.

Thank you for the lovely stories...I love their languid pace, deep emotions and real feelings....Cheers!